Standing on the brink of a whirlwind of action in every game, San Diego Wave goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan feels she must be the calm center that keeps her team in balance.
An Olympic gold medal winner in soccer for her native Canada, she knows there’s a lot more to the position than keeping your eyes on the ball.
Sheridan had four saves in last week’s home game against his former team, NJ/NY Gotham. Sheridan had a clean slate. And that, along with four goals from Alex Morgan, resulted in an impressive 4-0 victory in the season opener at home.
“It’s just being that calming force in the back, no matter the outcome,” Sheridan, 26, said before training this week.
She admits that it is not an easy task.
“I think it’s just about being patient and cool,” said Sheridan, born July 16, 1995, in Pickering, a suburb of Toronto in southern Ontario. “Sometimes you don’t see the ball for a long period of time, but you constantly have to be in a position that, you know, is effective if the ball crosses you.”
She says a goalkeeper needs certain qualities: to be really engaged and focused, “but also patient enough to keep your emotions in balance.”
Sheridan, a psychology student at Clemson University, says it’s easy for a goalie to get caught up in the location of the ball and miss what’s going on around him.
“And at the end of the day, the ball doesn’t move on its own, does it?” the 5-foot-9 player said. “So you have to be mentally engaged all the time. I think that’s one of the most difficult pieces.”
Like other members of the NWSL expansion team, Sheridan shows humility and gives credit to his teammates and coaches.
“It’s just an amazing club,” he said.
Wave’s head coach is not so modest. On Friday, Casey Stoney called Sheridan “probably the best goalkeeper in the world.”
Sheridan acknowledges the dynamic of the game where goalkeepers can be viewed as “heroes or villains” based on their ability to keep the ball out of the net in a given game.
“It’s just a wild roller coaster ride to live on,” he said. “And you can’t, you can’t live like that.”
His role is a work in progress, always, he said.
“I think you’re always learning and growing and the pressures change, and they still make it hard. It is not an easy thing to manage,” she said. “I never want to say that one day you will figure it out because I don’t think you will.”
Sheridan salutes the “incredible” people in her corner who she can trust to mentally strengthen and recover “because at the end of the day, sometimes it’s hard to go it alone.”
Teammates and staff inspire more faith and self-confidence.
Sheridan came to Wave in December from Gotham, where he played for five years. The East Coast team traded the rights to her in exchange for $130,000 in allocation and protection money in the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League expansion draft.
Sheridan made 91 appearances for Gotham and was voted the 2020 Challenge Cup Gold Glove winner. He finished the 2021 regular season with an 84.4 save percentage and six shutouts, earning a spot in the 2021 NWSL Best XI.
Following the trade, Gotham interim general manager Yael Averbuch West called Sheridan a “phenomenal goalkeeper”, but that he had expressed interest in “pursuing other career opportunities”.
NorthJersey.com reported that Gotham, once called Sky Blue FC, was plagued by reports of mismanagement, poor housing, and “woeful training facilities for its players.”
Has San Diego been a good game?
“It was definitely the right call,” Sheridan said. “And I’m very excited about this opportunity to work with San Diego and with Casey and the entire staff here.”
Sheridan said that after five years with Gotham, she needed a chance to get out of her comfort zone.
“Given the changes that were happening around football and in my life… I think this was the right time to take a leap and really challenge myself.”
He also liked being on the ground floor of a sprawling club. She added that she wanted to work with Stoney, who managed Manchester United Women’s in England.
His father, Matthew, began developing his athletic abilities. Her parents placed the 5-year-old girl in soccer because she was shy and she needed more socialization.
Remembering that, Sheridan laughs. She says that she has gotten out of her shyness.
“Yes, I have worked quite a bit on it. And I think that’s not really my problem,” she said, now labeling herself as “more outgoing and outgoing with people. I think I can also be an introvert, but definitely more socially adept.”
As a child, Sheridan competed in soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, and triathlon.
His parents played sports in high school and his father later became an Ironman triathlete, training continuously.
“He’s quite an athlete,” he said. “I think we had this competitive rivalry between us like, who was training harder? He just helped me become a better athlete.”
She loved the water so much and could have been a competitive swimmer if excelling at soccer hadn’t been such a passion.
Her passion led her to join the Canadian senior team at the 2016 Algarve Cup and was selected as an alternate for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
She calls her second Olympic experience last year “indescribable. It’s just one of the best moments you’ll ever achieve.”
On the gold medal podium, she remembers remembering all the experiences that led her to victory.
“You remember all the tests you went through to get through them,” Sheridan said. “And as a group, you just couldn’t ask for a better group of people than I was on that podium with.”
She was surprised by the support she received from her teammates after injuring her leg before her Olympic opportunity, she said. Fellow players encouraged him every step of the way in an accelerated 75-day rehab, well ahead of the 98-day projection.
Now with the retirement of Stephanie Labbé, Canada’s best goalkeeper, the forecast is for Sheridan to fill that role.
“I try not to think about too many expectations,” he said. “But I know for myself, that’s my goal, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get there.”
Including the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023?
“Absolutely,” she said. “Right now we are thinking about qualifying first and then we will change our approach. But first things first, we have to get there and we have to qualify.”
For now, Sheridan will focus intensely on his new team, with two wins and no losses or draws.
“As a team, our goal is to win the league and you know, (although) a new team coming in has a very low chance percentage,” Sheridan said. “And people really underestimate us. But I have a lot of confidence in this group. And that will continue to be our goal.”
Adapting is one of his biggest challenges right now: to new players, new defenders and a new part of the country.
Calling New York and New Jersey “very high-intensity emotional places,” she is trying to fit in with the “calm and laid-back” culture of Southern California.
But she thinks slowing down, taking it one day or one game at a time, is good for her and she looks forward to this lifestyle for years to come. San Diego is a great place to live, she believes.
“We’re also looking at the long term of this team,” he said. “And I think it’s going to be one of those clubs that has a legacy and really builds the culture in the city.”
She calls her teammates “super humble. And that really helps. I think we have already developed some trust between us. And that’s one of the biggest things you need on the field, but it also creates a really good environmental field.”
When she started in football, she had thoughts of being a striker.
“I mean, it’s cool and wonderful to be a striker, but I think I found my calling,” he thinks. “(Superstar Alex Morgan is) definitely better than I probably would have been. So I’m happy to be in the back. I’m happy to have her at the helm.”
Her goal and that of her teammates is to improve in every game.
“I think personally, I just want to be the best I can be every day, and the best I can be for this team and for Canada,” Sheridan concluded. “And ultimately, if that gets me the World Cup … and the Olympic gold medal again, that’s my goal.”
The Wave hosts the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday at 2 pm at the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium.